Supplementary memorandum submitted by
the Countryside Agency
Thank you for your letter following up on the
supplementary notes promised at our recent appearance before the
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. The full notes
are annexed to this letter but are summarised below. I am sorry
that this has taken so long, but I wanted to bring your Committee
good news about progress towards better definitions of what "rural"
is (see Annex 1).
In addition, you have identified a number of
questions on the original brief which the committee were unable
i. "Were the promised `improved programme
monitoring and evaluation arrangements' and `improved financial
management and monitoring systems' in place by April this year?"
ii. "Was the external appraisal team
introduced on time?"
In April this year we moved to formal quarterly
reporting for each programme area in which progress against clearly
articulated outputs and against programme budget forecasts is
set out. Corrective action is taken where necessary. Each quarterly
report is reviewed by the Agency's Executive and, subsequently,
the Agency Board at the earliest opportunity. I enclose a copy
of the latest (October) report to our Board (see Annex 2).
In addition our new financial management system,
CAMIS (Countryside Agency Management Information System), was
introduced in April 2001 having been researched, designed and
implemented within a six month period. This new system is already
beginning to deliver benefits with respect to financial management
Our new programme evaluation framework will
be implemented from April 2002. This is a little later than originally
planned, but it seemed right to allow the new range of programmes
to bed in sufficiently for the evaluation to be useful. The framework
will allow the Agency to measure the impact of programmes and
evaluate programme success in achieving their outcomes as set
out in our Corporate Plan. The principle behind our approach will
be to ensure an arm's length management of the evaluation and
some independent assessment of the programme's success. This programme
evaluation complements our in-year monitoring process by measuring
impact (outcomes) as opposed to outputs.
iii. "Have you produced detailed business
plans for each programme on activity?"
Yes. Business plans for each programme area
were developed in the spring of 2001 and took effect on the 1st
April 2001. We have already produced draft business plans for
a second year to take effect for the period April 2002 to March
2003. In undertaking the second round of business plans we refined
the process and structure for our business planning to create
even more sharply defined outputs and to provide clearer accounting
for the resources required to deliver the outputs.
(a) The definition of "rural"
The question of what is rural has long been
an elusive one. The Agency has used a series of definitions usually
driven more by the availability of date rather than scientific
We are currently working with DTLR, DEFRA and
ONS on a DTLR-led project to research better definitions of "rural".
However, we are not satisfied with the progress being made towards
defining an acceptable single definition and are doing more to
drive this forward. We have just concluded an agreement with DEFRA
and ONS to use the working Agency definitions. We will be pushing
for an immediate start to produce a clear and simple definition
for use by all government bodies.
(b) The PFI SPIRIT Contract (see Annex 3)
The business case for the Agency's PFI Partnership
with IBM to provide our IT infrastructure and managed services
(the SPIRIT project) was submitted to our sponsoring department
(then the DETR) in 1997. It anticipated savings of around £201,000
per annum on IS/IT staffing costs, as four posts would be removed
from our staff complement and another IS/IT running costs (such
as hardware and software maintenance contracts). These savings
The business case also noted that the outsourcing
option would be just under seven per cent more expensive than
the base case (using a mixture of in-house and contracted suppliers).
Nevertheless, it proposed that the partnership approach would
more than justify the modest additional cost, in terms of transfer
of risk, business continuity, flexibility and responsiveness to
future IS/IT delivery.
With hindsight, outside events and other factors
have made these original goals seem somewhat optimistic.
(c) The purpose of the "merger reserve"
identified in your report and accounts (see Annex 4)
The merger reserve represents the "assets"
transferred for the merged body (The Countryside Agency) from
the Rural Development Commission (RDC). This brings onto the books
of the new merged body the value of the business taken on from
the RDC as part of its merger with the Countryside Commission
to form the Countryside Agency. We have made the note clearer
in the 2000/01 accounts, which I have now signed off.
I hope you find this additional information
useful. If you have any further queries, please do let me know.
16 January 2001